True blue, p.17
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       True Blue, p.17

           David Baldacci

  Two minutes went by. And then the silence ended.

  He heard a yell, and then a sound like a long hiss. A scream and a heavy thud caused him to leap up and sprint forward. He tripped over a pile of ceiling panels, tumbled forward, landed on his back, slid a couple feet on the smooth concrete, and came to a stop next to a pair of strappy high heels.

  Groaning and rubbing his head, he stared up. The light hit him in the eyes. He put up a hand to deflect the glare.

  “What the hell are you doing down there, Roy?” asked Mace, who was holding a work light in a cage that she’d snagged off the floor.

  “Coming to save you,” he admitted sheepishly. “Gee, that was sweet. I’ll just take it as dumb luck that I didn’t actually need you to save me, since we’d both be like dead if I had.”

  She helped him up.

  “I heard a scream and a thud. What’s going on?”

  She pointed her light downward again. Roy’s gaze followed the shaft of illumination. The Captain was lying on the concrete, his big body still shaking.

  “What the hell did you do to him?”

  “Zap knuckles.”


  She held up a pair of black-coated brass knuckles. “Nearly a million-volt pop. He’ll be okay. But right now his nickname is Twitchy.”

  He pointed to the knuckles. “Aren’t those illegal?”

  Mace copped an innocent look. “Why, Roy, I don’t think so. But just in case they are, don’t mention them to anyone.”

  “You know I am a lawyer and thus an officer of the court.”

  “But there is such a thing as attorney-client confidentiality.”

  “I’m not your lawyer.”

  She slipped a buck from her pocket, slapped it in his hand, and then jabbed him in the side with her elbow. “You are now.”

  “Why’d you zap the Captain?”

  “Twitchy is the Captain? You know him?”

  “Yeah, ex-vet who’s now homeless.”

  She ran the light over the Captain’s rags and filthy face. “I zapped him because he’s a big guy, and I’m just a helpless girl.”

  “You’re not helpless and I’m not even convinced you’re a girl.” He looked around. “So the Captain must’ve been the one stealing food and tools.”

  “Maybe more than that, Roy. Maybe a lot more than that.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “How about killing female law partners?”

  “The Captain? No, that’s nuts. He wouldn’t.”

  “How do you know him?”

  “This is sort of his turf around here. I give him stuff. Money. Food.”

  “And shoes.” Mace pointed her light at the Captain’s feet. “I remember seeing those in your car.”

  “The poor guy was wearing cardboard for his shoes.”

  “So you only know him from the streets?”

  Roy hesitated. “Well, not just from the streets.”

  “How else?”

  “Does it matter?”

  “It all matters, Roy.”

  “I defended him once.”

  “From what?”

  “Assault charge. But that was three years ago.”

  “Yeah, and I can see that things have really looked up for him since then.”

  “I’m sure he came here just for food and to get off the streets. It’s dangerous out there at night.”

  “Apparently it’s dangerous in here too.”

  “He couldn’t have killed Diane.”

  “Sure he could.”


  “On Friday he snuck in through the garage after the hammer and nail crew left. A guy like him coming in the front door would have aroused too much attention. Old Ned was probably in the back hooked to a milkshake IV or else he waited until he was gone too. He times his movement across the lobby and hits the stairs. He hides out in that oh-so-convenient broom closet until your friend the day porter does his thing and leaves. Then, when things quiet down, he goes to the fourth floor, which he has direct access to from the fire stairs, and beds down for the night. On Monday he either pops awake when he hears the elevator coming up early in the morning or else he’s already up because he knows he has to get back out before people start coming in. He hits the button over there to make the car stop on this floor. The doors open. Tolliver can’t see him, but he can see her, a lone female trapped in a metal box, easy pickings. He grabs her and that’s it.”

  “But if he knew Ned comes in at six why wouldn’t he have already been gone?”

  “You think it’s all that difficult to slip past Ned?”

  “Or maybe he doesn’t have a watch.”

  She knelt down and lifted up the Captain’s left sleeve, revealing a watch. She hit it with the light. “And it’s got the right time.”

  “You said something about a case you worked?”

  “Same M.O. Bandit hid in buildings where construction was going on. He’d hit the elevator button when he heard the car coming up or down late at night. If the doors opened and it was a chick all by herself, he’d pounce.”

  “Ever catch the guy?”

  “Did better than that. I went in as bait. He tried to grab me and I shot him right in his most private of areas. The guy had butchered three women. So it was a real pleasure to put him out of commission permanently.”

  “Okay, but the Captain—”

  “Look, the Captain maybe only plans to rob her, but things get carried away. I see two Purples and a Combat Bronze on his jacket. What branch was he in?”

  “How’d you know it was a Bronze Star for combat?”

  “Because of the Valor Device worn with the medal.” She pointed to a small V on the Captain’s chest above the Bronze Star. “That’s only for combat heroism.”

  “I knew that because my brother is a Marine, but how do you know?”

  “I’ve done my patriotic duty and dated guys from every uniformed branch. They liked to show me their medals. Plus my dad had one from Vietnam. So which branch?”

  “Army Ranger.”

  “So he’s both huge and strong and really skilled at killing people.” She glanced down at the big man and then over at Roy. “The Captain have a real name?”

  “Lou Dockery. I still don’t believe he killed Diane.”

  “Spoken like a true defense attorney. But it’s not up to you. In fact, you have to call the cops right now.”


  “Officially, I’m not here. My sister gave you a number to call. Dockery will be in la-la land for another twenty minutes or so. I suggest you make that call, right now.”

  Roy looked panicked. “What the hell do I tell her?”

  “The truth, but leave the part about me out. Hang on a sec.” She picked up a piece of wood and used a small knife to cut her hand, drawing a bit of blood that she smeared on the wood.

  Roy looked stunned. “What the hell did you do that for?”

  “Because I know my sister. And hang on to the chunk of wood.”


  “Again, because I know my sister. Now give me your key card.”


  “I want to have a look-see through old Shilling and Murdoch.”

  “You’re not serious?”

  She brandished her zap knuckles. “A million volts’ worth of serious.”


  AFTER LEAVING Café Milano, Beth had returned to her office to go over some files and respond to some e-mails. She was on her way home when she got the call from Roy. She ordered in the Mobiles and her caravan turned around in mid-street and galloped to G-town. Roy met them at the front doors and let them in.

  “Nice uniform,” said Roy as Beth walked in dressed in her Café Milano duds. “Hope I didn’t interrupt anything fun.”

  Beth didn’t bite. “Where the hell is Mace?”

  Roy’s smile disappeared. “I don’t know.”

  Since Beth was wearing two-inch heels she was nearly eyeball to eyeball with the tall Roy. “You want to
try that answer again?”

  “We hooked up and then we parted company. And I came back here.”


  “I haven’t gotten a lot of work done lately, for obvious reasons. Just trying to catch up. And I was going to make some phone calls.”

  “At this hour?”

  “To Dubai. It’s the next day there.”

  “Thanks for the geography lesson. Where is he?”

  “Fourth floor.”

  He led them to the stairs. “Why not the elevator?” asked Beth.

  Because your little sister has my key card, thought Roy. But he said, “The elevators were acting a little funny when I came down. I don’t want to get stuck in one.”

  They trooped up the steps, two armed plainclothes and a uniform in the lead. Other cruisers and unmarked cars were pulling up out front and a perimeter was being set.

  “How did you go from working late to ending up on the construction floor in a confrontation?” Beth asked.

  “Heard something.”

  “From the sixth floor!”

  “I meant I heard something on the elevator ride up. Didn’t think too much of it, but then I remembered the day porter telling me about stuff going missing from the construction site so I decided to check it out.”

  “You should’ve called the police right way. You’re lucky you’re not dead.”

  “I guess you’re right.”

  They reached the fourth floor and the lawmen pulled their guns and lights and followed Roy’s directions. They found the Captain still on the floor, only he wasn’t twitching. He seemed to be asleep.

  They gave the okay and Beth and Roy came forward.

  She looked at the man on the floor.

  “He’s a big, tough-looking guy. Ex-military if the jacket and medals are real. How’d you subdue him?” She turned and looked at Roy intently.

  Roy bent down and picked up the piece of wood that Mace had given to him. “I used this. You can see the blood on it.”

  “You whacked him with this? Did he attack you?”

  “No, but I was afraid he might. It all happened so fast,” he added.

  Beth turned to her men. “Get Sleeping Beauty out of here.” She glanced at Roy. “I think we can chance the elevator. I need your key card to access it.”

  Roy patted his pockets and checked his windbreaker. “Damn, I must’ve left it in my office. Now I can’t get back in. I’m sorry, you’ll have to use the stairs.”

  Several more uniforms had joined them and it took all of their combined strength to get the bulky Captain down to the lobby.

  Beth said, “I want you to run through everything from the top.”

  “Okay, hey, you want to go get a drink while we do it?”

  “No, Mr. Kingman, I don’t want to go get a drink. I want the truth.”

  “I’m telling you the truth, Chief.”

  “From the top, then, and don’t leave anything out, slick. I’m this close to busting your ass on obstruction, tampering, lying to the police, and for just being stupid.”

  Roy said wearily, “Are you sure you and your sister aren’t twins?”

  “Excuse me?”

  “Never mind.” He drew a resigned breath and started talking.


  MACE DUCKED through the yellow police tape blocking the kitchen and Tolliver’s office and searched each place quickly and efficiently.

  After finding nothing she had stared at the inside of the refrigerator for some time. Roy had told her that Diane Tolliver was nearly five-eight, about one-forty. Dead bodies were unwieldy things, she knew, having been around more than her fair share. Whoever killed her had to have really wedged the woman in, or else the body could have easily slumped against the door and pushed it open.

  She went over the timeline again that her sister had told her and Roy had supplemented. Because Tolliver had had to use her key card that morning they had a pretty detailed understanding of her movements. The garage entry showed Tolliver had checked in at six. Ned had heard her voice in the lobby a minute or so later. She’d swiped her card in the elevator and entered the premises of Shilling & Murdoch ninety seconds after that. Roy had arrived at the office at seven-thirty and found her at a bit past eight. Mace didn’t believe that Tolliver had been alive when Roy got to the office, so she was looking at about ninety minutes for the murder to have occurred and the lady to get stuffed in the icebox.

  Tolliver had e-mailed Roy late Friday night. She also had sent him a book with a key in it, probably on the same day. An ex–Army Ranger had been hiding out on the fourth floor and right now was probably the prime suspect. Mace looked at her watch. Gazing out Roy’s office window she’d seen the patrol cars pull up to the building. She figured Dockery was already under arrest, and they’d take a DNA sample from him. If it matched, he was done. Neat, tied together. And then Mace could tell Beth the truth of her figuring it out, nailing the guy, and possibly get her old job back.

  So what was bothering her?

  She trudged back to Roy’s office so she could see when they brought Dockery out. Like Roy had said, he had a dead-on view of the front of the building.

  She pulled something from her pocket. It was a copy of the key that Tolliver had left in the book for Roy. Mace had had a “friend” make the copy for her after she’d left Binder’s goodie shop, with the warning that if he messed up the prints on the original key, she would Taser him until his brain started smoking. That actually would pale in comparison to what Beth would do to her if she found out about the key copy.

  She thought of the e-mail Tolliver had sent Roy. We need to focus in on A. And the A was followed by a hyphen. A seemingly trivial detail, but she knew the seemingly unimportant usually became critical in a criminal investigation. She came by her investigative instincts honestly. Her father had been so good at observing and deducing things that the FBI had asked him to teach a course on fieldwork for them at the academy, a tradition that Beth had carried on.

  Roy was right, though. It was awkwardly phrased.

  We need to focus in on.

  She looked down at the key in her hand. Why not just say, We need to key on A-?

  “We need to key on A-,” she said out loud, hoping something would click in her head. Just a coincidence? Key and key? Key on a

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